Your B2B customer loyalty is at risk

Customer relationships that are focused too intently on a single sales rep may be at risk.

B2B sales force turnover continues to worsen, with a total churn rate of 34.7 percent in 2017, according to some studies. The high cost of replacing and retraining sales reps is painful enough. But there is a potentially more damaging risk that can arise from this rapidly revolving door — one that is best summed up as the “Loyalty Giveaway.”

Loyalty Giveaway is when customer loyalty resides primarily with the sales rep, or other customer-facing employee, as opposed to the company or brand that provides the product or service. Where does loss of customer loyalty begin?

Everyone knows the story of the boy too shy to talk to the girl, who enlists the help of his friend to become his mouthpiece. In the end, the friend and the girl develop the relationship, while the boy gets left out. Why? It’s hard to develop a relationship with — and loyalty to — someone with whom you have no direct, meaningful connection.

It’s much the same with sales-driven B2B companies, which too frequently delegate all relationship management responsibilities, including customer communication and the customer experience, to a single sales rep (who then becomes too much of a “star” to the client). If that rep walks out your door, the customer relationship and its revenue are likely to follow.

Problems beyond loss of loyalty

As if loss of loyalty, and the eventual loss of your customers, isn’t enough, there’s another major downside to the “single sales rep as the star” model: immediate loss of sales opportunities.

Even the best sales reps will selectively sell, naturally concentrating on what facilitates their individual sales goals rather than the company’s overall objectives. When a client interfaces only with one rep, they can get incomplete information, potentially missing or misunderstanding the company’s full offering. Not to mention that sales reps fall into the trap of “familiarity fatigue” – over time they begin to ask the same probing questions, fail to creatively diagnose customer needs and bring a unique perspective to problems. As a result, upselling and cross-selling opportunities are missed, because the company never fully understands the customer’s needs, and the customer never comes to fully understand the full depth and breadth of the company.

The Loyalty Takeback: 7 things to keep customers from walking

Loss of loyalty happens over time, and addressing the core causes can take time, too. Nonetheless, there are immediate steps you can take to move away from the “single sales rep as the star” model and begin transferring customer loyalty back to your company and brand.

1) Evaluate your risk of customers leaving when reps walk.

Look at your most important customers — the twenty percent that make up eighty percent of your revenue. How many of these customers are based on the single-rep as the star model, with the rep serving as the sole or predominant source of contact? And of those customers, how long has the rep “owned” the customer relationship? A larger number of single-rep customer relationships, and/or long-term customer relationships “owned” by your sales reps puts your company at great risk of customer defection if a rep walks.

2) Define your customer experience.

Loyalty grows from providing an unparalleled overall experience that the customer wants to repeat. Some people call this “brand experience,” and it is indeed guided by your brand strategy — but it’s all about the customer. Arriving at your unique strategy to empower a positive customer experience requires answering fundamental questions:

  • What does your customer base desire and value?
  • What is your compelling and differentiating value proposition?
  • What promise are you making and how do you want your customers to feel every time they interact with your company?
  • What are the touchpoints your customer has with your company across the entire lifecycle of the relationship or product/service usage?
  • Who is responsible for delivering these touchpoints?
  • How can you improve, elevate or positively change each touchpoint to deliver your promise and value proposition?

Once you define your strategy, it will in turn define and guide the kind of experience you need to imbue in every customer communication and interaction.

3) Create a constellation – the account team.

You need to create a consistent, compelling, captivating experience across all touchpoints in a customer relationship, not just via a rep. Your entire organization should become a “constellation” of customer-facing stars, comprised of company leadership, experts and functional roles beyond just sales. Whether your team is two or 20, the key point is to create a team that is more than just one sales rep.

Be sure that each team member has a meaningful role, so that each contact provides customer value and doesn’t simply take up time. Make certain to prescribe the amount of contact each member has, and measure it. Don’t forget to involve executives. Every client feels important when they get attention from the top (or near it). Create regular opportunities for client face time with your business and sales leadership at road shows, field visits, VIP meetings or even phone calls and emails.

4) Create an account plan; involve the customer.

The ultimate customer relationship is one trusting enough that joint strategic planning takes place regularly, in which you work closely to review the relationship, evaluate performance, and look ahead to identify areas that can be mutual wins. Short of that, your account team can still make its own plan, informed by your multiple customer contact points, and focused on a customized approach to serving their specific needs and goals.

5) Provide actionable training.

Identify the trainable behaviors you want your people to display, those that reinforce the customer experience you want every customer to enjoy. To what lengths are sales and customer service reps encouraged to go to please the customer? How much room do they have to create a customized solution for their client? Be specific and train with situational examples and role play. Then regularly acknowledge individuals who display these behaviors in order to reinforce them.

6) Establish an intentional, consistent, direct communications program.

The sales rep is there primarily to sell, not inform. It’s up to you to directly communicate about your company to your customer. Keep them up-to-date on your vision, growth, hiring, new products and initiatives — all the things that create awareness and shape perceptions.

7) Deliver innovations and value that make customers stick.

A powerful means to avoid Loyalty Giveaway is through innovations that deliver exemplary value to the customer. This can encompass products and services, value-added programs, insights and advisory consultations, and certifications and training, among others. When you deliver exceptional value, you create a “must-have” situation that makes customers stick with your company – not your sales rep.

There will always be sales force turnover, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn over your customers to your salespeople. By creating a multifaceted approach to customer communications and relationship management, any B2B company can prevent the Loyalty Giveaway.

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